Sharing your interests with your kids is one of the very best things about having them and, for lots of us, our favorite interest is musical theater. I mean what’s not to love? The toe-tapping melodies, brilliant dance numbers, and (mostly) happy endings are not only a ton of fun, they’re also suitable family entertainment. So we’ve put together a list of the best musicals for kids (but, let’s be honest, this is just as much for you).
While there are lots of movies out there that follow the same general formula of “musicals” (i.e. just about every Disney animated feature ever) we wanted to be a little bit traditionalist here and focus (mostly) on musicals that originated on stage. There are a few exceptions, of course, because Hollywood has made some pretty great musicals, too. While most of these films are appropriate for any age group, some do tackle more adult themes, so we’ve included ratings for each.
We must warn you: if you are a musical theater geek or even someone even vaguely interested in musicals, just reading through this list is going to get several songs stuck in your head for at least the rest of the day. Then again, if you’re a musical theater geek you already have a song stuck in your head today anyway so, hey, we’re really not making anything
There are several versions of Annie available to stream, but this one is our favorite. Despite her daydreams about parents who simply misplaced her, Annie is an orphan in a facility run by the mean Miss Hannigan. But when the wealthy Daddy Warbucks decides to let an orphan live in his mansion to promote his image, Annie may just have found herself a new home. And of course it isn’t long before the gruff Warbucks himself is won over by her charms. But when Miss Hannigan, along with her con artist brother, Rooster, and his girlfriend, Lily St. Regis, make a plan to scam the millionaire, Annie’s idyllic new home is threatened.
Stream Annie, rated G, on Amazon Prime
The Sound of Music
Maria doesn’t quite fit in at the convent. In an attempt to help her try to find purpose in her calling, Mother Superior sends Maria to the palatial home of Captain Von Trapp, a widower with seven unruly children who have already scared off several nannies. But Maria is a breath of fresh air, and her free spirit is a welcomed change from Captain Von Trapp’s military-style discipline. It isn’t long before the plucky Maria wins the hearts of her young charges… and, despite some initial clashes and the machinations of a scheming Baroness, the good Captain. But when the Nazis occupy their beloved homeland, everything is threatened…
Stream The Sound of Music, rated G, on Disney+
Dolly Levi (née Gallagher) has always been a woman who arranges things, especially when it comes to love. It’s been a skill that’s served her well since her beloved husband Ephram died. But working so many odd jobs and living hand to mouth is taking its toll, so now she’s decided to play matchmaker for herself with the wealthy (if grumpy and reluctant) “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers’ preeminent citizen. Of course, this is Dolly we’re talking about, so nothing is going to be straightforward or lacking panache! This brassy cupid is going to set wedding bells ringing for everyone she meets along the road to becoming Dolly Vandergelder.
Stream Hello Dolly, rated G, on Disney+
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
While the beats of the memorable fairy tale are the same, this version gives us an empowered heroine without being preachy. Brandy’s Cinderella is a kind and gentle dreamer, but also a bright, intelligent, and determined young woman who knows that it takes more than wishes and magic to get what you want in life (though she may need a pep talk from her divine Fairy Godmother). You have to go after it yourself! She also knows that being treated like a princess isn’t as good as being treated as a person with respect, and finds a prince who can meet her on her level. A diverse, all-star cast complements these lively and beautiful Rogers and Hammerstein tunes, making this one of the very best musicals for kids.
Stream Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, rated G, on Disney+
Shrek the Musical
Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a grumpy ogre named Shrek, who contentedly resided in quiet hut in a murky swamp. But that solitude is interrupted when a cadre of fairy tale characters find themselves homeless after being persecuted by the evil Lord Farquaad. In order to get his swamp back, Shrek agrees to help Farquaad by rescuing the mysterious Princess Fiona from a tower. Soon, Shrek, Fiona, and a loud-mouthed donkey named Donkey (naturally) find themselves in an adventure far grander than anything they ever signed up for, stumbling into heroism they didn’t know they had, and finding love in places they never thought to look. And since it’s based on a movie your children may know, this really is a good musical for kids.
Stream Shrek the Musical, rated TV-G, on Netflix
Oliver Twist is a 9-year-old urchin living in London. He (famously) longs for more living in a squalid workhouse orphanage, and doesn’t think things can get any worse until he is sold to a mortician. When the scrappy lad once again escapes his circumstances, he finds himself in the presence of a pickpocket boy known as the Artful Dodger and his crew, who takes Oliver to Fagin, the gang’s leader. Oliver is welcomed him into the “family,” and even finds a mother figure in a woman named Nancy. When it is revealed that Oliver, unbeknownst to anyone earlier, has wealthy relatives looking to reunite with him, Nancy’s abusive husband Bill Sikes sees a way to get rich quick.
Stream Oliver, rated G, on Amazon Prime
The King and I
Set in the 1860s,
The King and I tells the story of Anna Leonowens, a newly-widowed schoolteacher who travels to Thailand (then called Siam) to serve as a governess to the king’s children. The king wishes to modernize his country, and believes Western education to be a crucial component in doing so, but finds he clashes with Anna in a variety of different issues.
This play, written by white people in the 1950s in a way that often stereotypes and misrepresents Thai culture, can for sure be problematic, not least of which in that the most famous film version of the show depicts non-Asian actors in “yellowface.” This 2019 version, however, filmed in the London Palladium, attempts to correct the sins of previous iterations of this story.
Stream The King and I on Amazon Video
My Fair Lady
Eliza Doolittle sells flowers on the streets of London. It’s one of the few ways a woman like her, “low-born” and coarse, can earn money in Victorian England. But Professor Henry Higgins, an expert dialectician and grammarian, believes that it’s the way she speaks, not her wretched clothes and dirty face, that limit her options and keep her in poverty. So he and his friend, Colonel Pickering, make a bet: can they mold Eliza into a high-born lady and fool London high society into accepting her? As Eliza learns how to act and speak like a high-class woman, she grows increasingly disenchanted and disgusted by the various men – from Higgins to her free-loading father, to the besotted Freddy Einsford-Hill – who thrive on manipulating her.
Stream My Fair Lady, rated G, on Netflix
Based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White, Camelot tells the story of King Arthur and his utopian kingdom, Camelot. (Hey! That’s the title of the show!) Taking place over the course of decades, the movie tells two stories that mirror one another, the rise and fall of Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere and the rise and fall of the kingdom, from the idealistic, if nerve-racking beginnings to the melancholy dissolution of a love that once was. Unlike many musicals, this one is cast with actors who can sing, rather than singers who can act, so the emotional meat of the story is real and heart-wrenching.
Stream Camelot, rated G, on Amazon Prime
Singin’ in the Rain
Everyone is excited about the transition from silent film to “talkies” in the late 1920s. Everyone, that is, except for leading lady Lina Lamont, whose grating voice and thick Brooklyn accent threaten her star quality. Her leading man, Don Lockwood and his friend Cosmo, however, have an idea: why not have Kathy, the bright and bubbly ingenue who has captured Don’s heart, dub Lina’s lines?
A Hollywood musical about the making of a Hollywood musical – it’s delightfully meta, charmingly clever, and you’d be hard-strapped to find better dancing or physical performances anywhere else. (We’re willing to bet your kids will love the slapstick acrobatics of “
Make ‘Em Laugh“!)
Stream Singin’ in the Rain, rated G, on Amazon Prime
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Midcentury audiences loved two things more than probably anything else: cowboys and musicals. Enter Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, where cowboys sing and dance as often as they draw pistols. In this story, Oregon mountain man Adam marries Millie, less for love and more to take care of him and his six unruly brothers. Millie, disappointed in this turn of fate, takes it upon herself to bring a “civilizing” touch to these rugged frontiersmen, teaching them good manners, hygiene, and, crucially, how to court a lady. But they kind of miss the most important lesson of all: it’s not a great idea to kidnap six townswomen and bring them back to your cabin.(Being a ’50s musical, it all winds up going better than 21st century audiences would think.)
Stream Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, rated G, on Amazon Prime
Fiddler on the Roof
In 1905, the Jewish shtetl of Anatevka thrives on tradition – it’s what holds the entire community together. Tevye the milkman (our narrator) is a father to five daughters, and three of them – Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava – are approaching the age where marriage is the next expected step. But while tradition holds they should marry whoever papa picks, one by one they find love in the most untraditional ways. Their choices, and Tevye’s reactions to them, reflect a rapidly changing world… a world that is becoming less and less safe for the Jews of Anatevka as the czar’s antisemitic police forces encroach ever closer.
Stream Fiddler on the Roof, rated G, on Amazon Prime
Into the Woods
The first act of this play-turned-movie is a merry mélange of all our favorite fairy tales – Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood, and others – but the second act asks the question “What happens after happily ever after?” What happens after everyone gets their wish? When slain giants get their (frankly, completely justified) revenge? Who’s really the hero when the witch isn’t nice or good, but she’s right? What does it mean to take accountability and face your past… and how do you even begin to do that? Thoughtful, accessible, and full of celebrities, Into the Woods is a great introduction to the murky and complex world of Stephen Sondheim musicals.
Stream Into the Woods, rated PG, on Disney+
Jack “Cowboy” Kelly is just one of the thousands of newsies living in New York City on the precipice of the 20th century. But when Joseph Pulitzer’s price hikes on
The World newspaper threaten their livelihood, he and his comrades stand up to the media giant to form a union and assert their rights. The film is based on a true story.
You could do either the movie of the adapted Broadway stage play that was adapted from the original movie
or you could just watch the original film. Not to tip the scales or anything but the original has young Christian Bale in it, so…
Stream Newsies, rated PG, on Disney+
The Greatest Showman
The world doesn’t seem to appreciate P.T. Barnum’s brilliant imagination, showmanship, or ability to promote… so he decides to start his own circus, giving other under-appreciated people the chance to become stars – Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady, Charles Stratton, a “dwarf” performer, Anne Wheeler, a trapeze artist, and others. He recruits young playwright Phillip Carlyle to help him drum up publicity and it works! Soon the troupe is meeting the Queen of England and selling out shows, but the success goes to Barnum’s head. Before long, he forgets and forsakes all those who made it possible in the first place. Will he remember before he loses it all? Will Philip and the Anne ever be able to honor their love without facing discrimination? Will the show go on? (You know all the answers to these questions, but it’s a fun ride nevertheless.)
Stream The Greatest Showman, rated PG, on Disney+
A tribe of cats – the Jellicle Cats, to be precise – must make their annual decision. Who among them will be chosen to ascend to the celestial Heaviside Layer to be reborn into a new life. Will it be Munkustrap? Rum Tum Tugger? Rumpleteaser? Bustopher Jones? Jennyanydots? Bombalurina? Or perhaps even the slovenly Grizabella the Glamour Cat?
This movie is precisely as nonsensical and weird as it sounds, but there are humans acting like cats, singing and dancing, and songs far catchier than they have any right to be, so your kid will probably like it. For your part, you can marvel at the fact that this somehow ran on Broadway for 18 years straight.
Stream Cats, rated PG, on Hulu
West Side Story
A modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story takes place in New York City on the uncaring streets of the Upper West Side (yes, believe it or not, at one point the Upper West Side was a rough neighborhood). The Montagues and Capulets are replaced with two street-gangs, the Jets, who are white, and the Sharks, who are Puerto Rican. Romeo and Juliet are Tony and Maria, whose love rises above their differences. But in this violent world, is there really a place for them? (In a rare twist from most musicals, no, there isn’t: it’s a bummer of an ending.)
This movie is not rated, but is
recommended for children 11 and older.
Stream West Side Story on Amazon Prime
Deena, Effie, and Lorrell are The Dreamettes, a talented trio discovered the ambitious car-dealer-turned-talent-manager Curtis Taylor Jr., who quickly arranges for them to be back-up singers for up-and-coming R&B singer James “Thunder” Early. Before long, Curtis starts Rainbow Records, with the explicit wish to bring Black artists into the (white) mainstream.
But mainstream success comes at a terrible cost. From deciding who is and isn’t “marketable” to love triangles (and love squares and love pentagons) constantly simmering beneath the surface among the power-players at Rainbow Records, the atmosphere is ripe for resentment, heartbreak, addiction, and loss. But also, just maybe, redemption.
Stream Dreamgirls, rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime
After 20 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child, Jean Valjean is free on parole, but soon finds his past haunts him at every turn, preventing him from moving past it. After a fateful encounter with a magnanimous priest, however, he vows to lead a just life. Tearing up his parole card and assuming a new identity, Valjean makes good on his promise, opening a factory and even becoming mayor of a town. But when he is discovered by his former jailer, Javert, Valjean must go into hiding, now with an adopted daughter named Cosette, as revolution and the promise of a new day reverberates throughout France.
Stream Les Misérables , rated PG-13, on Netflix
How does a 19 year old nobody from the Caribbean rise from poverty and squalor to be one of the preeminent founders of the United States of America? Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary War hero and first Treasury Secretary – from his unyielding desire to succeed and make a name for himself to his fateful duel with Vice President (and the musical’s narrator) Aaron Burr.
Brilliantly told in a synthesis of classic Broadway show tunes and dynamic rap, this ain’t your grandparents’ Revolution. Somehow, this one feels more real and relevant, capturing the spirit (and deep flaws) of those who seized the opportunity to create something greater than themselves.
Stream Hamilton, rated PG-13, on Disney+